Friday, July 22, 2005


In one of my past lives I worked at a martial arts school. (Sidenote: That’s why I was so surprised to see all the freaked out comments about getting “choked out” on this site. Hands down the best choke submission I’ve ever seen was by a 10-year-old girl with arms like broomsticks. She locked on to a senior instructor (a big cocky meathead 200+ guy who has been doing martial arts forever) and he almost went down glassy-eyed before he could even tap out.)

I was fresh out of college and my personality alternated between cocky, quirky & shy. Typical. I lived near Sacramento and didn’t really know anyone so I spent a lot of time working out. I was a kinda cute young thing with a boppy ponytail & red toenails and an easy confidence with martial arts “fighting” that comes from knowing opponents will always underestimate the tall quiet chick. I was pretty slow but long legs and light weigh make up for a lot when competing against women and a long stare, a slow grin & a quick attack will throw off most men.

I was proud of all the women I’d introduced to the benefits of martial arts. I would say, “If I can do it, you can do it too. I’m slow. I have two metal rods in my back and the beginnings of arthritis. I’ve had acl surgery on my knee. I’ve had 3 surgeries on my ankle.” Men are better at sparring for about the first two years. They can rely on strength. Women tend to focus more on technique and, therefore, are better martial artists once they get to a sparring level that requires actually skill rather than just being able to take a hit. Sparring is a chess match, not a slug fest. That said, I’ve gotten more bruises sparring with “orange” and “green” belts than I have from any of the more senior belt levels. No control and too much adrenaline.

Our art was Olympic-style sparring. Not at all street practical and very frustrating for older, slower, stove-up folks like me. Then we started training more in ground techniques. This was about the time the Ultimate Fighting Challenge was getting popular and we would have big parties and get together to watch. So pretty soon another dojang started going south to train with “The Gracies.” And then they were sending someone up a couple times a week to train with interested people in our area. They liked to train at our school because we had good mats and it was very clean. My compulsive tendencies existed even back then.

The Gracies were a concept. Some family members had been in the US for a while. Some didn’t have a whole lot of English but could communicate easily with exaggerated mime demonstrations of moves and drills. Some were a little, um, scary.

One day one of the Gracie boys looked at me. (I’m not saying which one because what if…) It was the kind of look that made me have a deeper understanding of how cave men truly functioned. It made me reconsider my choice of attire on training days. I think it was years before I felt comfortable baring my midriff again… and, of course, by then it wasn’t as spectacular. That look had some raw male testosterone flowing in it. No pomp, no bravado, just a pure sense of what he was capable of and a simple assessment of me. I gulped and looked back. I guess I passed some test because the next week I was invited to do some of the training drills with them. I never got very good. The rods in my back made a lot of the moves very painful for me and I regret I didn’t dedicate enough time and energy to training. But I did learn a few moves that were clean, simple and effective…. When you watch it sometimes you just see a couple of sweaty guys rolling around with each other, but Jui-jitsu is a beautiful art.

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